Pharmacies in Spain

For customer service, Spanish pharmacies are near the top!

Unlike in the USA, when you want to buy something like Alka-Seltzer, diarrhea medicine, ASPIRIN, or condoms (see update below), you MUST go to the pharmacy. For Spaniards, this is a common fact of life. For Americans, we say, “WHAT?! I have to ask a pharmacist for CONDOMS?!” or “WHAT?! I have to admit to the pharmacist that I have diarrhea?!” or “WHAT?! I have to pay 4 Euros for a pack of 20 aspirins??????!!!”

All these things for Americans is, to say the least, unusual and uncomfortable. We can semi-secretly put boxes of condoms and diarrhea medicine under our arms and face the teenager cashier at any grocery store, convenient start, or drug-store-super-store and we don’t have to ask anyone to buy them. Walk up, take it off the hook, and carry it directly to the cash register.

CONDOM UPDATE 2010: In the last year, one can buy condoms at local supermarkets without asking for them. They should be found in the “personal products” aisle or even within reach at the check-out counters.

We’re also NOT accustomed to paying such prices for aspirin! This, for me, is the most shocking thing. We in the USA (can) pay about $1.50 for a bottle of 100+ aspirin! This is something so common! And store-brand Alka-Seltzer can cost $.200 for a box of 50. So what do I do, I stock up on all these things when I go to the USA and bring them back to Spain with me so I don’t have to pay such prices or face such embarrassment at the pharmacies here in Spain.

All that said, wow, I’m beyond impressed with the professionalism of the pharmacies here. These people not only know their stuff (as any self-respecting pharmacist would), but they also take their take to understand your problem. They really tend to treat you like family, always very friendly, always very helpful.

And while the aspirin might be expensive the prescription drugs are DIRT-CHEAP!! WOW! There is one prescription I had filled for the last 10 years in the USA – nothing REALLY necessary but helpful – which cost me $20-per-unit. Here, it costs me 2.40€!!!! This fact reminds me of a number of scenes in the Michael Moore movie SICKO where he goes to Canada, England, and France and asks the people how much they pay for their prescription drugs – and the answer is always the same – IT’S CHEAP compared to the USA.

Don’t get me started on the US Healthcare System but let me say this, when I go to the doctor I first ask for an appointment. When I show up for my appointment the doctor calls out 5 people’s name for my particular time-slot and we take turns depending on the order of the names called. I’ve never waited more than 20 minutes for my name to be called and the care has always been professional.

Back to pharmacies: they do observe siesta-hours. But there is always a 24-hour pharmacy available in nearly every neighborhood for emergencies. And I’ve never walked away from a pharmacy without them giving me some kind of little freebie like a box of sugar-free throat lozenges, a pack of facial tissues, or something like that. What a nice detail which costs them little and strengthens the pharmacist-patient bond. Children always get sugar-free suckers too.

I’ve gone to a couple different pharmacies here in the neighborhood and so they know me by my face and my nationality. As I’ve said before, I’m CLEARLY the only United Statesen in THIS neighborhood. They always treat me so nicely, very friendly, asking about me and when I’ve visited home last, telling about how their daughter is now studying English or recently visited England or Boston.

I think Pharmacies are very similar across Europe so I doubt someone from Sweden would be surprised about what I’m writing because “that’s the way it is”. But for an American it’s a true experience.

By the way, I’d imagine one could also buy condoms in a Sex Shop in Madrid, for example, but… I don’t think I’m ready for that – YET.

Saludos, MadridMan

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